Well, Are They?

The name for this blog came from a bright yellow book by Bernard Rudofsky in the Bates library that I often passed by in favor of better known costume-history names.  I just love the temporality of the title--what is modern, anyway?  I guess that's what he's trying to figure out.  I also am into the title, "Clothing for Moderns".  But I finally got this book through ILL to check out if the content lived up to the name.

It's a book worth a read, if you are able to keep up with binary Truths ("Whether we like it or not, clothing is, from head to toe, crammed full with eroticism; eroticism of both kinds, healthy sensuality and perversion.") and an attempt to discourage clothing's connection with modesty and original sin by comparing the bound and sartorially quartered West to the apparently unilaterally naked "primitive peoples" of Africa and South America.

It has such a curious awareness and sense of importance of our differences as human beings of various cultures...but with the continuing limited view we moderns who know better often associate with mid-century Americans.  He is at once liberated--citing the natural nakedness of Other Cultures as encouragement to the antiquated squeamishness of his fellow Americans--and writing from the perspective of perceived Liberator of these people: it is with his informed analysis that their practices can be legitimized and praised.

He does make some really interesting visual connections between the dress of different cultures that have much less cultural significance than he gives them (Marquesan leg tattoos and 1940s tights; the evident/obvious wish of the western woman of the 1880s to adopt the natural body of the "Hottentot"...).  And it is always worth reading books that reflect contemporary views.  This book was just too full of reactionary reaches and sweeping generalizations and secretly I might have skipped quite a bit at the end.

Perhaps because I am a "modern" student of costume history, I have always been more interested in examining and appreciating the complexity of visual identities in a culture instead of clinging to, say, the sadism inherent in high heels and corsetry.  But these ideas had to come first, I suppose, and this book's question of "modernity" is a good reminder of the relativity of attitudes and opinions--including our own.

I wish I could give you a list of books to read with more "modern" takes on the body, but like I said, that's not really my area of research.  However, I would love it if everyone checked out the blog Threadbared for some really excellent reading on contemporary attitudes toward the Other in costume studies and the fashion world.

But isn't the cover pretty?